EK’s Note: We are pleased to announce our new VGK writer, Jeff Paul. Jeff comes to HockeyBuzz with a strong background in the sport having played, refereed, and coached throughout his youth. Making the move from the east coast, Jeff has resided in Las Vegas since 2007. Prior to coming over to HockeyBuzz Jeff independently created and operated VGKTalk.com.
This game may feel familiar to the Vegas Golden Knights and their fans. Thursday’s game in Ottawa is a quick, 10-day turnaround from their first tilt in Las Vegas. The last meeting saw Vegas take the 4-3 win, a great come-from-behind victory, capped by a Jonathan Marchessault penalty shot goal in overtime. In the first game between the Senators and Golden Knights, there was a little bit of everything for hockey fans. Big hits, goal scoring, chippy play, and exciting moments.
During the October 28th game, Senator defenseman Mark Borowiecki earned his second suspension of the season for a borderline hit on Cody Eakin in the Vegas zone. Eakin corralled a puck and as he turned up ice, with his head down, Borowiecki came crashing into him with a lot of speed. At first glance, the hit seemed dirty, especially considering the hitter. Borowiecki was fresh off a one game suspension for elbowing Boston Bruin Urho Vaakanainen. Upon closer review, it seemed as if there was very little contact with Eakin’s head, the only coming after contact was made with Eakin’s arm/shoulder. The NHL Department of Player Safety did not feel the same and served Borowiecki a three-game suspension for the hit. In tonight’s sequel, watch for Ryan Reaves or William Carrier to get in on the forecheck when Borowiecki is on the ice. Your Friday morning coffee will almost certainly be accompanied by a big hit highlight courtesy of one of those two Golden Knights.
Expecting another overtime thriller isn’t too far fetched. A penalty shot may not be the deciding factor, as it was in the last game, but these teams seem to be equally matched at this point in the season. Ottawa is off to a 6-6-3 start compared to the 6-8-1 record of the Vegas Golden Knights. Expect a back-and-forth game, similar to the first meeting.
Vegas allowed Ottawa to get off to a quick start in their building, last time out. Now in Ottawa, the Golden Knights will need to start fast and work to get the first goal. It is typically harder to come back from a 2-0 deficit on the road than it is at home. Vegas was able to overcome the early onslaught of the Senators, but that is surely not the game plan for round two in Ottawa. Alex Tuch scored the first and third goals in the last meeting, with Reaves contributing with a goal in between, before Marchessault eventually ended the game in heroic fashion.
Without Erik Haula (knee), the Golden Knights may need to be creative with their line combinations. Haula has been ruled out of the rest of the road trip which ends in Boston on Nov 11th. His knee injury seemed severe at the time and he was stretchered off the ice, but for the time being, the Golden Knights are only ruling him out of the next three games. His production will be missed, as he was a top three point producer for the Golden Knights. Players like the first line of Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith need to elevate their game to make up for the loss of Haula. His absence exaggerates an already problematic depth scoring issue. Expect Oscar Lindberg to draw into the lineup, quite possibly right into Haula’s spot as the 2C.
Vegas will need their fourth line to continue to control the pace of play while they are on the ice. The unit of Reaves, Carrier, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare have been a spark plug for the Golden Knights. Bellemare’s value as a team leader regularly comes into play with this line. He plays a Reilly Smith-esque role on the fourth line. His puck control and vision have been instrumental in creating goal-scoring opportunities for Reaves and Carrier, similar to Smith with Karlsson and Marchessault. Reaves has already recorded four goals, three away from his career high for a single season. The energy this line brings with their forecheck and physical play seems to spark the rest of the Golden Knights roster.
Ottawa’s roster features some talent, despite their reputation as one of the lower tier teams in the league. The Senators run most of their offense through winger Mark Stone, who is coming off a five-point performance versus the New Jersey Devils. Stone is currently averaging 19:43 minutes per game, meaning the Senators utilize him early and often. Center Matt Duchene (4g, 11a) and defenseman Thomas Chabot (4g, 16a) round out the top three point-getters for the Senators. Against New Jersey, Ottawa put 42 shots on net and chased Devil goaltender Cory Schneider from the game before the second period had ended. They should have plenty of confidence facing Vegas at home, considering their momentum and the early success in the last meeting with Vegas.
Ottawa sustained a few injuries in their 7-3 rout of the Devils. Sniper Bobby Ryan and goaltender Craig Anderson left the Devil game with injuries. Anderson and Ryan are expected to be active, according to Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher. Ottawa will also have youngster Brady Tkachuk back, playing in his first game since October 17th (torn ligament, leg). Tkachuk is the son of former NHLer Keith Tkachuk of Phoenix Coyote fame. Tkachuk is one of those exciting young players that need to be game planned for. Prior to his injury, Tkachuk recorded six points in four games.
Projected VGK Lineup (via NHL.com):
Marchessault - Karlsson - Smith
Pacioretty - Eakin - Tuch
Nosek - Lindberg - Carpenter
Carrier - Bellemare - Reaves
Theodore - Engelland
McNabb - Miller
Holden - Hunt
Tune in at 4:30 Pacific on AT&T Sportsnet for all the action. I will be live Tweeting during the game for up-to-the-second updates and analysis. Follow along on Twitter @VGK_Buzz for updates and discussion during the game.